All of us are likely to face challenging and difficult individuals in our everyday work, and sometimes this happens when we're working alone. Working alone can sometimes prove difficult within some work contexts and under some conditions. The nature of an employee's role, specific working conditions, the temporary absence of a coworker, or a unique situation may require working alone.
The concepts and skills taught in CPI's Prepare Training®
program apply to many types of problem behavior on the job whether one is working alone or on a team. As always, the guiding principles of Respect, Service, and Safety at Work®
are critical factors for employees in confidently and competently managing problem behavior when working alone.
Tips for Prepare Training® Certified Instructors
Certified Instructors have a responsibility to teach any segment of the Prepare Training®
program in a relevant fashion for specific types of employees and groups. Some employees may regularly, occasionally, or suddenly work alone. Certified Instructors should craft examples and challenge participants to consider various Prepare Training®
concepts and skills relevant to many types of problematic behavior. The concepts and skills are all very powerful, and their simplicity makes them profound.
Most concepts and skills taught in the Prepare Training®
program's Foundation Course, Topic Modules, and Specialized Training Segments are directly applicable to situations in which employees may be working alone. These include:
- The CPI Crisis Development ModelSM
- The CPI Verbal Escalation ContinuumSM
- Paraverbal Communication
- Empathic Listening
- The Integrated Experience
- The CPI COPING ModelSM
Recall the CPI Crisis Development ModelSM in any crisis situation. This model provides a simple set of guidelines to help organize our thinking and guide our decisions and actions whether we're working alone or with a team. Remember that:
- When someone is expressing anxiety, support them.
- When someone is being defensive, direct them, always keeping Respect, Service, and Safety at Work® in mind.
- If a situation escalates, take a step back—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Remember the CPI Supportive StanceSM.
- Remain calm, and make a plan.
- When communicating with an individual in crisis (or others involved in specific situations), keep directives simple and clear.
- When directing an individual in crisis (or others involved in specific situations), always communicate respectfully, even while being firm and directive.
Physically Violent Situations
If anyone escalates toward violence, initiate your organization's Violence Response Procedures. Remember CPI's four priorities of Violence Response Procedures:
- Keep yourself safe and attend to any immediate safety concerns. We can't help others if we are hurt or in danger ourselves. Employees need to keep themselves as safe as possible so that they are in a better position to help others.
- Assess the situation. Take a step back and try to remain as calm as possible. Evaluate the circumstances quickly. Consider the number of people involved, their physical size, and the type and number of possible weapons. Keep in mind that many common objects are potential weapons. Determine the immediacy of any dangerous factors involved in the situation. Make a quick determination of severity level.
- Summon assistance. Summon appropriate assistance to get help on the scene quickly and efficiently. Invoke your organization's Violence Response Procedures.
- Make the environment as safe as possible. As much as possible, direct onlookers away. Try to remove or reduce accessibility to potential weapons. Isolate the area so no one wanders into the situation inadvertently. If warranted, practical, and safe, evacuate the building or the area closest to the incident.
Violence Involving Weapons
If an actual, potential, or perceived weapon is involved in a violent incident, follow your organization's policies and procedures for situations involving weapons. If supported by these policies and procedures, keep the following tips in mind:
- Avoid reaching for the weapon. Attempting to disarm a person with a weapon is extremely dangerous.
- Focus on the individual. When threatened, we tend to focus on the weapon. Shifting your focus to the individual will remind you that the real danger is not in the weapon itself, but in the aggressor's behavior.
- Negotiate. Communicate simple, clear, and reasonable requests in an attempt to solicit affirmative responses (e.g., "May I sit down?" or "Do you mind if I take a deep breath?") The more the aggressor responds affirmatively, the less likely she is to engage the weapon.
- Step back. Try to negotiate permission to take at least three steps away from the individual. If allowed, the increased distance can reduce both anxiety and weapon accuracy if it is engaged.
- Buy time. Time is an asset. The longer you can talk to an aggressive individual, the less likely he is to engage the weapon.
The concepts and skills taught in the Prepare Training® program relate to a simple thinking and decision-making process as opposed to prescriptive solutions. It is important that Certified Instructors address behaviors within the context of the models we teach. Crisis behaviors unfold and present themselves in a roughly similar (though highly unpredictable) developmental pattern, whether they are displayed when an employee works alone or on a team.
Some people displaying anxious behavior will need minimal support, while others may need immediate and focused attention.
Likewise, defensive behavior is defensive behavior, and a directive response is most appropriate. A key characteristic of defensive behavior is some degree of irrationality as presented by the behavior of the person in crisis. This could involve even the irrationality seen in the behavior of any "typical" person who is inordinately frustrated with a specific situation or set of circumstances. A firm, directive, respectful approach is best, with the level of direction dependent upon the level of irrationality.
Be sure to use examples from the work of your training participants, especially where these concepts and skills apply. There are numerous opportunities to address these areas as you deliver lectures, conduct exercises, and engage in discussions. The examples invoked throughout any segment of CPI's Prepare Training® program should reflect the realities faced by participants in their everyday work.
Effective Communication Strategies
Guidelines involved in effectively communicating with a person in crisis when working alone are similar to those important in any crisis situation:
- Treat the person with dignity, respect, and courtesy.
- Listen actively to the person.
- Speak directly to the person.
- Remain calm.
- Offer assistance but do not insist or be offended if your offer is not accepted.
- Do not overassist or be patronizing.
- Reduce background noise if possible.
- Be prepared to repeat what you say.
- Don't pretend to understand if you do not. Ask the person to repeat what was said.
- Recall the Integrated Experience.
- Be aware of how your own personal space, body language, and paraverbals may affect the individual in crisis.
- Be patient, flexible, and supportive. Take time to understand the individual and make sure the individual understands you.
- Focus on the person's strengths and adapt your communication skills to the person's needs.
- Allow the person time to say or do things at her own pace.
- If warranted, provide reasonable accommodations according to current laws and policies.
Staying Safe During Site Visits
By planning ahead and avoiding unnecessary risks, many crisis situations can be avoided. When crisis moments do occur, the planning and practicing you've done will be essential to taking appropriate, practical steps to keep yourself and others as safe as possible.
Site visits might present a number of unique challenges:
- You are providing a service on someone else's "turf," where you may not be familiar with the neighborhood, the site itself, or the people who are present.
- Most significantly, you are often alone and without the benefit of having a team available should a crisis situation arise.
- Prevention and planning are the keys to safe and successful site visits.
Before the Visit:
- Gather as much information as possible about the site and the people you are visiting.
- Obtain clear, specific directions to the site. Know exactly where you are going.
- If possible, make the visit during daylight hours.
- Leave a list with your office of where you will be, and call in at designated times.
- Establish a procedure for your office to follow if you don't call in.
- Request backup support if you don't feel safe.
Traveling to the Site:
- Keep valuable items out of sight or don't bring them at all.
- Drive with your vehicle doors locked.
- Park in a well-lit, visible area.
- Don't get out of the vehicle if you feel unsafe.
- Carry as little as possible into the home.
During the Site Visit:
- Establish the goal of the visit. State the goal to involved parties in advance.
- Keep in mind that you are at work. All policies, guidelines, and laws applicable to your workplace are likely applicable to the site you visit.
- If possible, keep a clear path to an available exit. Avoid positioning yourself in a way in which you would be trapped if you needed to make a quick exit.
- Unless absolutely necessary, avoid entering rooms that are away from the main exit.
- Respect people's personal space. Recall that personal space may extend to possessions.
- Safeguard your privacy. Avoid giving out personal information, such as your personal address or telephone number.
- Pay attention to your internal warning signals. Leave at any time if you don't feel safe.
- Be aware of your paraverbal communication. Paraverbal communication refers to the tone, volume, and cadence (rate and rhythm) of your speech. Many identical statements can have completely opposite meanings, depending on your paraverbals. For example, the question, "What's wrong?" could be stated in a caring, supportive way or in an angry, impatient way. Be sure that your paraverbal communication is consistent with the message you want to send.
- Speak at an even rhythm and allow silence. Be sure to allow enough time for the individual to respond to one statement or question before you go on to the next. Some individuals may take longer to process the information you give them.
- Don't argue. If an individual is confused about the facts of a situation, don't argue with him. Instead, try to understand how he is feeling. Often, fear and confusion are at the root of behavior. Offering reassurance will be more beneficial than trying to correct misperceptions. For example, instead of saying "No one is trying to hurt you," you might say, "It sounds like you're frightened." If it is safe to do so, try to ignore verbal outbursts and insults.